Tomorrow I will be another year older, and while it sounds like the most overused and tired cliche, another year wiser, as well. Yet, maybe “wiser” isn’t entirely right, maybe it’s “weathered” or “more complex.” I have said I’m not the same, and it’s true. But getting a handle on what that really means, how to put it into words and somehow own it, is no small task.
New Year’s Eve was just us three, home, binge watching, waiting for the ball to drop, but when we could stay awake no longer, there was a subtle shift in the mood. Things suddenly got serious. The weight of whatever we had been carrying, the emotional baggage of such a difficult year, came crashing down. My son put his arms around me and refused to let go. He wanted to talk, to say the things he had been keeping inside. It was clear to me that he was still afraid. I don’t know when life will stop feeling so fragile. I don’t know when any of us will trust in the future again. I have been unable to shake the dull sadness, the feeling of helplessness that washed over me when my son told me that he is worried something bad might happen to him in the new year.
These are the things I carry. The things I work hard to keep in their place. Some days the weight is unbearable, but not always.
I was reading something this morning that made me think about the culture of recovery. We feel obligated to bounce back after trauma, to minimize the time and effort it takes to truly heal. We all share stories about the guy who had major surgery on Monday and was back at his desk a week later. It’s as if those stories are meant to inspire us. But if we are being very honest, it’s not inspiration we feel, but a twisted kind of survivor’s guilt. We downplay surgery by calling it a procedure and then we feel bad when we still feel bad a week, a month, a half a year later. I am learning to give myself time, to be okay with how slowly things move forward. Healing is hard work. It’s the scars you can’t see that slay me.
We took a drive this afternoon to the beach. I wanted to feel the cold air on my face, to stand in the wind and watch the waves. My son reached for my hand as we walked, then circled back to put his arm around his father. I don’t know how different our story would have been if I had never had breast cancer, if the last year had never happened. Maybe my sweet young man would have walked ahead, a little annoyed with my lingering at the rail. Or maybe he would have opted out, preferring to be alone than with his parents.
This is what I think of when I acknowledge the mixed blessings of the last year. I had cancer and it absolutely sucked in so many horrible ways. Sometimes, even, it still sucks. But the little buried treasures, the moments of absolute clarity, the holding of hands and the hugs and the desperate need to never let go. These are the things I’ve gained.